Women's Rights

Balkh businesswomen showcase goods at trade fair

By Muhammad Qasem

Despite facing daunting challenges and restrictions on women's activities outside the home, dozens of woman entrepreneurs from Balkh province in northern Afghanistan on August 2 organised an exhibition of handicrafts in Mazar-e-Sharif to encourage Afghans to buy domestically made products and to showcase Afghan women's achievements over the past 20 years. [Courtesy of Naseer Almas]

MAZAR-E-SHARIF -- Despite daunting challenges and restrictions on women's activities outside their homes, dozens of female entrepreneurs from Balkh province last week organised an exhibition of handicrafts in Mazar-e-Sharif city.

The exhibition, held on August 2, sought to encourage Afghans to buy domestically made products and to showcase Afghan women's achievements over the past 20 years.

The exhibition was organised by the Balkh Chamber of Commerce and Investment with financial support from the International Labour Organisation of the United Nations (UN).

About 70 small and large companies attended the exhibition to introduce and market their locally made products and showcase women's skills and capabilities and the growth of the private sector.

A female entrepreneur is seen at her booth during a trade fair in Mazar-e-Sharif on August 2. [Courtesy of Naseer Almas]

A female entrepreneur is seen at her booth during a trade fair in Mazar-e-Sharif on August 2. [Courtesy of Naseer Almas]

The organisers allocated 40 of the exhibition's 70-some stalls to women.

"The purpose of the exhibition was to promote small and large businesses owned by Afghan women and create employment opportunities for women who have lost their jobs," said Shakiba Shakib, chairperson of the Women's Chamber of Trade and Investment in Mazar-e-Sharif.

"We are focusing on ... the revival of businesses owned by businesswomen who were forced to abandon their businesses due to economic constraints and lack of market," she said.

"To achieve this, we need support from relevant institutions and the international community," she said. "Hence, we call on them to support woman entrepreneurs."

"We understand the challenges are daunting and have impacted everybody in society because there are neither markets nor employment opportunities, and poverty and unemployment have affected all classes, especially women," Shakib said.

"Therefore, we work towards creating employment opportunities so that Afghans can earn halal income."

Businesswomen have been supporting others in various fields, including designing and making clothes and other handicrafts, to ensure their products meet international standards and are compatible for sale in foreign markets, she said.

"By conducting such exhibitions, we intend to safeguard women's achievements," she added.

Afghan women have made historic and unprecedented achievements over the past two decades in various fields, including entrepreneurship, investment and handicrafts, said Asadullah Asadi, chairperson of the Balkh Chamber of Commerce and Investment.

"The exhibition was organised to encourage small businesses," he said. "There were 70 booths with representatives from the manufacturing companies who showcased their products."

Supporting domestic production is the only way to achieve economic growth, he added.

Women's economic growth

"Organising exhibitions will raise public awareness and encourage consumers to buy Afghan products," said Bibi Hawa Sofizada, an entrepreneur in Mazar-e-Sharif who makes clothing for women. "We promise that if we get additional support, we will increase our handicraft products."

"Women have an important role to play in society and in achieving economic growth," she said.

"We urge the international community to support ... empowering Afghan women."

"Unfortunately, the women’s handicrafts market has diminished from growing poverty and unemployment and the ongoing deterioration in overall market stability," Sofizada said.

Afghans were better off economically and sales were better several months ago, she added.

Tamana Sahibi, who brought her handmade clothes to the exhibition, said she faces many economic challenges due to the lack of employment opportunities for women.

"I make various clothes and have come here to sell them. I hope my business will once again thrive and that I can save my family from poverty," she said.

"I am the only breadwinner of the household, and my family's survival depends on the sale of my handicrafts."

"Afghan women, with support from the international community, were almost becoming self sufficient," she said. "We hope those gains can be sustained and safeguarded."

Hope for the future

Many women who have returned to work after spending months at home in fear and distrust still face problems and limitations.

Women and girls should have the same rights as men to work and become economically independent, said Mariam Mazari, a women's rights activist in Mazar-e-Sharif.

"We have experienced and empowered women in different sectors, and they can bring about positive changes. But they are confined to staying home amid the prevailing restrictions," she said.

"No one can underestimate women's contribution to the Afghan labour force in society," she said. "They are obliged to go out and work to rescue their family from poverty."

Several residents of Mazar-e-Sharif who visited the exhibition said that organising such events is vital to raising public awareness about locally made products and encouraging customers to consider buying them.

"I am pleased to see domestic products showcased in the exhibition," said Mohammad Zahir Salimi, a visitor to the exhibition. "The happiness of women gives us hope for the future."

If women were allowed to go out and work, they would be able to contribute to the growth of handicrafts and domestic products, he said.

The majority of men are jobless and there is a need for women to play their part to work and save their families from poverty and economic hardships, he added.

"I urge all Afghans to buy local products and avoid imports to improve our collapsing economy," Salimi said.

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As a person who lost his occupation and closed his shop due to the lack of customers and raising prices, I know what work means in Afghanistan nowadays. You will come to know how hard it is to work these days when you work hard all day, open your shop, and at the end of the day, you have no benefit except giving loans to other people. I salute to these women for their courage and efforts. They have proved and are proving every day how consistent and determined they are. I wish we knew the true value of Afghan women. I wish we could use the energy and capacity of these women. I wish we had a system and government in Kabul that instead of enmity with women, was granting them the opportunity to work and prove themselves. Afghans are really unfortunate. They don't know the value of their country, they don't know the value of their people, and they even don't know the value of themselves. Afghans have a share of the blame for all the misery that happens to them.


Unfortunately, lack of a market for handicrafts has challenged the effectiveness of such exhibitions. The people of the country, are going through a dire economic situation, and can hardly find a piece of bread to feed themselves and their families. The number of beggars in the country is increasing day by day. Many people want to sell their household instruments. People are tired and disappointed. They are concerned about their children’s future. In such a situation, the handicraft market is hit the hardest. Because most of these crafts are exquisite and decorative items that people cannot buy in such conditions. However, such exhibitions are useful at least for the psychological encouragement and consolation of businesswomen. Thanks


Great! it makes me very happy when I see that despite facing many problems inside the family and society, so many restrictions, and being abandoned by human rights organizations and the world Afghan women, continue to live and try to fight against the insufficiency. May God bless the work of these brave women. Thanks to the United Nations for providing this opportunity for women so they can showcase their merits and abilities. I hope that one day women would be able to work in a society like other men and take part in the development and prosperity of their country.